Imagine your authentic self, your true nature, as a backyard in midsummer. A beautiful garden of perennials is carefully weeded and tended along with a lovely stone terrace containing terracotta pots of vegetables. There is a hammock with comfortable cushions poised between the branches of two trees offering shade and relaxation on a hot sunny day. This backyard is designed to provide serenity and safety. But there is no gate to pass through to enter, no fence around this peaceful garden. The neighborhood kids come barreling in on their skateboards and smash through the perennial garden, and a stray softball has shattered the terracotta pots. The cushions are stained with mud from children playing, and the hammock is overturned, ripped from the trees now covered with toilet paper. The original nature of the yard, slowly over the course of time, has been shattered. If only a fence had been built to protect the space.
Just like the unprotected backyard, the demands of work and family, along with the belief that we can always be available to take care of everyone else’s needs, will slowly and over time wear us down. Without clear boundaries, the garden of our mind, body, and soul becomes trampled, and we are left with a barrage of unfiltered voices in our minds, depleted energy and health, and a loss of what is true and important for our authentic selves.
Setting boundaries that clearly define our limitations and require us to make our own needs a priority can be challenging. We may fear the response from others, feel guilty that we are putting ourselves first, or judge our limitations to be selfish or self-indulgent. When we begin to practice setting boundaries, we are able to more clearly define and recognize our authentic feelings and needs, and honor them. Rather then being a selfish act, building fences to protect and honor our authentic selves allows us to have more energy, cultivate a deeper peace of mind, have a more positive mind-set, and be more present for others and the demands of daily life.
- Name your “must haves”. It is impossible to set boundaries unless you cultivate an awareness of your limits. What are the things you must have in your life to feel energized, clear headed, and fulfilled? Is it more sleep, time to curl up on the couch and read a book, exercise, a night out with your partner? Make a list of at least three “must haves” that you are currently not getting and create the space for them.
- Tune in to how you truly feel. When you begin to feel resentment or discomfort, take a moment to ask yourself why. This is a clear sign that you are pushing yourself beyond your limits (saying “yes” when you mean “no”) or when you are allowing another to impose their needs, their beliefs, or their expectations onto your shoulders. Practice tuning in and noticing when you are letting others cross over a boundary. Ask yourself, how can I handle the situation differently in the future?
- Give yourself permission to have boundaries. Fear, guilt, and self-doubt are the biggest obstacles to setting clear boundaries. However, setting clear boundaries is a sign of self-respect and self-love. It may take time and practice to learn how to truly honor yourself and believe that you DESERVE to have boundaries that support your needs. Select one boundary you have a habit of consistently letting go of. Practice asking for what you need, expressing your feelings openly, requesting support from others, and working to keep this boundary firmly in place.